SAVONA, Italy (ChurchMilitant.com) - An Italian priest who called out Pope Francis as "mediocre" and a "heretic in need of conversion" in his All Saints Day sermon has been suspended by his bishop.
Father Fabio Ragusa, assistant priest in the parish Borgio Verezzi, Savona, denounced the pontiff for "uttering truly senseless statements" endorsing homosexual civil unions and stressed that "it was imperative to obey the Catechism and the Church's doctrine."
Ragusa defined Francis' words as "a grave doctrinal error" from the pulpit but was shocked as some of his congregation shouted him down with the words: "Don't judge! Don't judge!"
"I was silenced by the faithful who shouted at me not to judge," said Fr. Ragusa. "So, I suspended the sermon and continued the Mass," as four parishioners walked out of the church of St. Peter the Apostle.
Bishop Guglielmo Borghetti of Albenga-Imperia, who has removed the priest from his position pending disciplinary action, warned: "No priest should ever allow himself to utter similar words against Pope Francis."
Church Militant spoke on the phone to parish priest of Borgio Verezzi Fr. Joy Thottamkara, who said that he was not present at the first two Masses during which Ragusa delivered the homily and was narrating what happened based on complaints from parishioners.
According to Fr. Thottamkara, Fr. Ragusa first preached the anti-Francis sermon during the Saturday 4 p.m. Mass at the parish's smaller St. Stephen's Church.
On Sunday, Fr. Ragusa repeated the homily at the 11 a.m. parish Mass in St. Peter's Church. Two catechists seated in the pews shouted back telling him not to judge the pope, while another catechist walked up to the pulpit and asked him to stop preaching the sermon.
"Four parishioners walked out of the Mass," Fr. Thottamkara said, "and ripples of unease swept through the small community of around a thousand souls."
The parish priest told Church Militant he was bombarded with an avalanche of phone calls with a mother crying and saying her teenage child had been disturbed by Ragusa's words. "Others told me that they would no longer come to church if Don Ragusa celebrated Mass again."
The parish priest said he decided to attend the Sunday afternoon Mass: "I was present, sitting in the choir stall. For four minutes Fr. Ragusa preached beautifully on the Beatitudes — the gospel lection for the Sunday."
"Then, without any reference to the text or theme of the readings, Fr. Ragusa asked the congregation: 'Are you aware of the present situation? Pope Francis has made a big mistake.'"
"I went to the pulpit and requested him gently: 'Please stop, this isn't fitting,'" Thottamkara told Church Militant. "I told him that what he was saying was off topic with respect to the Gospel and that he had to interrupt the homily and continue the Mass".
"In that case, we'll pray for the conversion of the pope," Fr. Ragusa responded and continued with the celebration of the Mass.
"Father Ragusa was convinced about what he was saying," the parish priest noted, but a number of people, including the head of the local civil authority, have written to the bishop.
But Fr. Ragusa insisted his sermon was faithful to the Gospel reading and theme of "purity," where "Jesus declares those who are pure in heart are blessed for they shall see God."
The pope has erred, and in applying the words of Jesus I was urging the faithful to follow the doctrine of the Church, the Magisterium of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. I was also stressing the Catechism paragraph 2357 which states: "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered' ... Under no circumstances can they be approved."
The priest reiterated his position in a Facebook post: "Did you understand how far we have come? And for this we must obviously thank the pope (who is a pope but who seems to follow the Devil)."
"It must be said that the chair is the holy one of St. Peter but that today an unworthy foolish man sits there, causing incalculable damage to souls," he added.
Ragusa pointed out that the congregation was able to oppose the truth and "silence a priest celebrating Holy Mass" because of Pope Francis' influence.
He also lamented the parish priest's action stopping him from preaching "in front of everyone."
"Please understand the gravity of this," Ragusa pleaded. "These are the fruits of this pontificate ... the priests are being forced to jump through hoops to explain how things really are."
"However, I always hope for his conversion," Ragusa wrote, in his post titled "Udite! Udite!" (Hear! Hear!).
"The Church's entire position on human sexuality, marriage and the family is not affected in the slightest," the bishop remarked.
Italian commentators defending Fr. Ragusa have slammed the pope's apologists for claiming that Francis' statement on gay civil unions was his "personal opinion."
"A pope is allowed to have a personal opinion that contradicts Catholic doctrine: If this is the logic, then anything is fine," art historian Andrea Cionci commented.
"Therefore, 'as a rule of thumb,' one might well expect that in a month Bergoglio will declare to journalists, as a private person, that he is in favor of abortion or euthanasia. And that shouldn't be too upsetting," Cionci remarked.